Favre completed 15 of his first 16 passes, and his only two incompletions of the first half came on a throw batted down by defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield and a pass broken up by otherwise invisible All-Pro free safety Merton Hanks on an acrobatic dive. In executing the game plan to near perfection, Favre picked apart the middle of the 49er zone, connecting with backup tight end Keith Jackson four times for 101 yards and a touchdown, including one outrageous 28-yard completion: Late in the third quarter Favre slipped as he rolled out of the pocket before zinging a perfect pass as he was regaining his balance.
In the meantime, the Packer defense sent a message on the 49ers' first play from scrimmage. With 7:49 left in the first quarter, Young threw an outlet pass to fullback Adam Walker, who played with a cast on his broken left thumb. Linebacker Wayne Simmons, who had the best game of his three-year career, with 12 tackles and a sack, slammed into Walker and jarred the ball loose. Rookie cornerback Craig Newsome scooped it up and ran 31 yards for the score.
Shurmur's schemes confounded the 49ers throughout the afternoon and exposed their weaknesses. The Niners could not run the ball against his creative nickel alignments—halfback Derek Loville gained five yards on eight carries—and Young's yearlong tendency to lock in on Rice became a liability. The Packers used cornerbacks Newsome and Doug Evans to bump Rice at the line, and he was double-covered on nearly every play. "Sometimes Steve stayed on Jerry too long, and that took them out of their rhythm," strong safety LeRoy Butler said. Rice still caught 11 passes for 117 yards, but most stunning was the way in which the Packers contained him after he caught the ball. After making those 11 receptions, Rice gained only 10 yards.
Having formulated defenses for 20 other games against the 49ers, Shurmur, formerly a defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams and the Arizona Cardinals, knew how to disrupt the Niner passing offense as well as anyone—and it showed. He shifted from odd-to even-numbered fronts and roughed up Young, who was intercepted twice, fumbled once and was sacked three times, by rushing players from unlikely places. Simmons, fellow linebacker Fred Strickland and Butler blitzed from all over, and on some plays 295-pound nosetackle John Jurkovic dropped into coverage.
"That was just an old-fashioned butt-kicking," said San Francisco tackle Steve Wallace. "We lived by the pass, and today we died by it. When you play an underdog and let him breathe a bit, all of a sudden he wants to tear down the house."
As much as Shurmur's game plan bewildered the 49ers—and San Francisco's first-year offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was unable to adjust—the Pack's defensive success was also a product of attitude. Early in the week Shurmur introduced 30 combinations that had many Green Bay defenders confused and bothered. On Wednesday Holmgren went ballistic after first-team defenders repeatedly allowed scout-team receivers to find large openings. By kickoff, however, the Packers were prepared to execute Shurmur's streamlined game plan, which featured about 20 combinations.
Keeping everyone loose, as usual, was Favre, a man known as much for his bathroom humor as for his passing prowess. Like Joe Montana, Favre possesses a small-town, no-frills genuineness and a keen prankster's bent. On Wednesday, Favre's main target, Brooks, was sitting in a toilet stall when Favre heaved a cup of ice water over the top, dousing the receiver. Later that day Favre raided the locker of backup quarterback Jim McMahon and placed hot wax in McMahon's underwear.
But last Saturday the man who had the last chuckle was Holmgren, who didn't hit the showers until every one of his players had left the locker room. With his husky jowls, soft eyes and bushy mustache, Holmgren resembles a walrus you might find in a cartoon. As he winced from the stomach pains that had plagued him all day, he showed no traces of the Lombardi-like behavior he displayed in his pregame speech. Yes, he conceded, he had told his team that football is about kicking people's asses. "But please don't use that language," he pleaded. "My mother would cringe."
Then Holmgren smiled broadly; perhaps his mom would cut him some slack this time. "I don't make guarantees," he said, "but if we play like this, I like our chances."